Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Another, er, "cool" thing about Japan

I've been a little fixated on Japan lately. I'm reading Samurai books. I'm watching films about Samurai. I just saw a good three-part documentary about the Tokugawa Shogunate that you can stream instantly if you got the Netflix thing happening. I was walking around work this week saying "Omedeto" because someone told me a while back that it means "Happy New Year" in Japanese (although as I've repeated it, I've grown suspicious, and learned that well, no, it doesn't exactly).

Well, allow me to direct your attention to something else cool about Japan. Via No Impact Man, it's an account of an American's first winter in Japan. I think that we Americans could learn a lot from it.
There's another reason I appreciate this new experience, too. It is what the Japanese call "Gaman." It means "endure," or "tolerate" but there's more to it than that. It ascribes value to enduring something difficult. To Gaman is a principle, its a virtue. It's a cross between hanging in there and fighting the good fight.

There are times when gaman is a pain. Sometimes enduring hardship as a virtue when the situation could just as easily be made more comfortable seems nuts. But as a cultural value, doing your best and enduring hardship is refreshing. I won't speak for other Americans, but my experience has often leaned too far the other way when it comes to putting up with difficulty without complaint.

I like finding the easy way, I seek comfort, I reach for whatever might soothe the least bit of discomfort I feel. This wouldn't be so bad if it actually worked. But too often I've emerged woozy from another day of escapism and wondered if there wasn't another way. The connection between comfort, consumption, and happiness seems to be more tenuous than I once thought. Here I am in Japan, my fear of a heatless winter come true, and I'm happier than I've been in years.


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